Washington Post coverage of Arab-Israeli news struck bottom with Post foreign service correspondent Doug Struck's Aug. 28, page-one article "Israeli Siege Leaves Gaza Isolated and Desperate." It brings to mind President Harry S. Truman's remark that when he heard people say they knew only what they read in the newspapers, he pitied them.
Propaganda by Editing
Including the headline, Struck and Post editors use the words siege, trapped, imprisoned, prison, blockade and pressure 14 times, in their own copy or quoting Gaza Arabs, and officials from UNRWA (the long-time Fatah-dominated United Nations Relief and Works Agency). Readers are bludgeoned with The Post's apparent perspective that most of the many things wrong in the Gaza Strip are the fault of Israel's "disproportionate" (Post paraphrasing of a Hamas official) if not uncalled-for "siege."
The paper manipulates cause-and-effect by burying superficial references to Palestinian terrorism that provoked Israel's "siege" and by omitting basic facts about Palestinian violations that led to the "isolation and desperation" of Gaza Strip residents. The result? A "story"- not a news report- that amounts to a soft-core version of Hamas propaganda.
1) Near the end of "Israeli Siege Leaves Gaza Isolate and Desperate," Struck allows an international aid worker to observe "there's more and more internal conflicts between families, more and more basic crime." Of course, this is because "desperation drives people to do things they wouldn't normally do. There is less respect for security."
The day before Struck's story appeared, Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghazi Hamad published a critique of Palestinian behavior - including criticism of the Hamas government and "the resistance," in the PA daily Al-Ayyam (Aug. 27). Among other things, Hamad states that
We are always afraid to speak honestly about our mistakes, as we have become accustomed to placing the blame on other factors. The anarchy, chaos, pointless murders, the plundering of lands, family feuds... what do all of these have to do with the occupation? We have always been accustomed to pinning our failures on others, and conspiratorial thinking is still widespread among us...We exhausted our people time after time with errors in which everyone played a role... I have asked myself: What does the resistance gain if the country is all chaos, replete with corruption, crime, and futile murder? Isn't the building of the homeland part of resistance? Isn't cleanliness, order, and respect for the law part of resistance?...
Good questions - but not those that Struck and the Post begin to give readers enough information to ask, let alone answer.
2)Struck hijacks chronology. He begins with June 28, the day Palestinian gunmen infiltrated from Gaza, attacked an Israel Defense Forces base in Israel, killed two soldiers and kidnapped a third. He writes: "The Palestinians launch an average of about six crude Qassam rockets a week into Israel, causing minimal damage, no fatalities and about a dozen injuries since June 28 ...."
But as CNN reported on June 1, "since the start of the second intifada in September 2000, Palestinian groups have fired more than 5,000 rockets into Israel, or into Gaza settlements before the Jews left. Those missiles killed 13 civilians and two soldiers." On June 15, 2006, The Jerusalem Post reported, five rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel in the morning alone. One brought down a factory roof in Sderot, a town long under siege by Palestinian Arabs firing rockets from the Strip. The attack severely injured one man. Another rocket - one of 70 to land in or near the town in five days- struck close to the home of Defense Minister Amir Peretz. "I have no intention of turning restraint into a strategy," Peretz warned. "[This] is a limited time out."
The Post obscures is the fact that Israeli counter-attacks subsequently suppressed Palestinian fire from 70 rockets in 5 days to "about six crude Qassam rockets a week ...." The Post ignores reports that Islamic Jihad reportedly has been cooperating with Hamas to develop longer range, more accurate rockets.
3) Struck recycles the thread-bare "Palestinians-as-David, Israelis-as-Goliath" imagery, down-playing the nature of anti-terrorist combat in built-up areas: While the Arabs launch "crude Qassam rockets," "the Israelis attack with tanks, F-16 jets and artillery." Not a word about the ominous escalation in Palestinian arms smuggling since Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip last year and agreed to Palestinian control of a Gaza crossing point to the outside world (the Rafah checkpoint on Egyptian border) for the first time in history.
But as Reuters reported ("Israeli army faces militants with expanded arsenal," June 28), "Israeli troops on an offensive into the Gaza Strip face Palestinian militants who are much better armed than when the Jewish state's forces pulled out of the territory last year .... Israeli defense officials estimate militants have smuggled in hundreds of shoulder-fired anti-tank missiles, thousands of assault rifles and tons of high explosive ...." Although "the arms build-up had been seen largely as part of an internal power struggle between the governing Hamas Islamist groups and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction ... the same weapons could be turned on Israelis."
4) Struck returns, to the point of melodrama, to the economic woes of the Strip's one million-plus residents, and concludes:
"It's a very, very bad situation," [Mohammed Abdul Rahman] said. "As a father, it's hard to tell my kids that I can't get what they need. The pressure at home is rising. Everyone feels it. I think there will be a massive strike, and the whole things will explode. We can't keep living like this."
Not a word about the Palestinian Arabs being the world's largest per capita recipients of foreign aid from the 1993 start of the Oslo "peace process" to January's election of Hamas (which Struck fails to mention is listed by the United States, Canada, Australia and Israel as a terrorist organization) as ruling party of the Palestinian Authority. Not a word about the marked increase in Palestinian economic and other living standards from 1967 to 1987 - that is, from Israel's seizure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip from Jordan and Egypt, respectively, to the first intifada - and again from 1993 to 2000. Just a misleading statement by Struck that "Gaza has been under pressure at least since the 1967 war, when the Israeli army seized the area from Egypt." No clear exposition that Palestinian woes in Gaza (and the West Bank) have been and are largely self-inflicted, from rejecting the state-building opportunities of Oslo, and of Ca mp David in 2000 and Taba in 2001, insisting instead on terrorist war against Israel and election of Hamas.
5) Struck says "more than 200 Palestinians, at least 44 of them children, have been killed in the past 8 ½ weeks." Pushing his Palestinian "David," Israeli "Goliath" stereotype, he adds that "three Israeli soldiers have been killed. Huge Israeli bulldozers and 'pinpoint' missiles have razed at least 40 houses and dozens of other buildings ... leaving many families homeless." How many of the "more than 200" were combatants? How many of the children were "youth proudly carrying weapons," as decried by Ghazi Hamad? How many were killed by other Arabs? How many of the houses and other buildings were being used by terrorists?
The Post, by word choice and construction, raises the questions, gives no answers, but implies Israeli culpability - in the article's fourth paragraph. In the 25th of 33 paragraphs, we learn:
Capt. Noa Meir, an Israeli military spokeswoman, said: "It's a very complicated combat area. Just like in Lebanon, they are using civilians as human shields. We do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties."
In Journalism 101, this response would have been paragraph five, not 25, and would have included details - examples of IDF avoidance of civilian casualties (as reported in the Post's Aug. 27 page one article by staff writer Laura Blumenfeld, "In Israel, a Divisive Struggle Over Tarageted Killing") - and a breakdown of casualties by combatant and non-combatant.